Here’s the scoop: Ben & Jerry’s wants to open in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Here’s the scoop: Ben & Jerry’s wants to open in Park City

Chain store restrictions OK’d amid worries of government overreach

by Jay Hamburger
THE PARK RECORD

Ben & Jerrys ice cream, with flavors like Cherry Garcia, wants to open a location along Main Street. It would be inside the Kimball on Main, a development under construction at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue. The Park City Council, though, on Thursday enacted a restriction on chain stores along Main Street.

Park City leaders on Thursday greatly restricted the number of chain stores that will be allowed on Main Street, taking a dramatic step that has been considered in some fashion for years but never enacted.

But the possibility of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop opening along the shopping, dining and entertainment strip might have melted away with the decision.

The Park City Council unanimously enacted a restriction on chain stores after discussions that extended through various rosters of elected officials over the years. A hearing prior to the vote illustrated a split in the community about the restriction as property owners on Main Street worried about the impact on leasing opportunities and others described the new rule as being needed to ensure the street retains a local feel.

There have been concerns over time about the prospects of national chains that can easily afford to lease space on Main Street further pushing up rates. That would make it more difficult for locally owned businesses to secure space on the street. Supporters of the rule say it is an important move that will ensure Main Street remains unique. The detractors, though, see the rule as unnecessary and a City Hall intrusion on the free market.

The meeting on Thursday occurred as it was publicized another national chain, Ben & Jerry's, plans to open a location on Main Street. It would be the company's only so-called scoop shop in Utah. Thomas Cooke, an entrepreneur who lives in Silver Summit and is involved in the discussions about a Ben & Jerry's location, said in an interview there is a letter of intent to put Ben & Jerry's at the Kimball on Main, a project under construction at the former site of the Kimball Art Center at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue. The Ben & Jerry's scoop shop would be put on the Main Street side of the property, he said.

In an interview, Cooke said he considered spots in the Park City area for two years and saw Main Street as the best location for a Ben & Jerry's scoop shop. A Ben & Jerry's executive, franchise development manager Eric Thomas, submitted a two-page letter to the City Council saying Main Street "was the most desirable, and possibly only desirable spot for us to launch in the market." The company prefers scoop shops be located in "thriving downtowns," the letter says.

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"Certainly we can understand the motivation behind this effort; local character is an important element to an attractive tourist destination as well as to be a great city in which to reside. At the same time, not all 'chain stores' are created equal," the Thomas letter says. "Some national brands own and operate their establishments, with profits flowing to the company headquarters. Franchised businesses like Ben & Jerry's create local earnings for a local owner operator, which could be further invested into the local community."

Cooke said the City Council decision on Thursday did not end the efforts to open a Ben & Jerry's. He said more needs to be learned about the standing of businesses that were in a process at the time of the meeting on Thursday.

"I'm not giving up on it. There's a small window of opportunity," he said.

The City Council decision allows 17 businesses referred to as conventional chains on Main Street uphill from the Heber Avenue intersection. Seven conventional chains are allowed downhill from the intersection. There are currently 13 such businesses uphill from the Heber Avenue intersection and one business downhill from the intersection.

A hearing prior to the vote showed a divide along Main Street as business representatives, building owners and others interested in the makeup of the street made a variety of arguments.

Mark Stemler, a building owner, said the free market works best. He described a restriction on chain stores as being, effectively, a move toward rent control. He wanted City Hall to "stay out of it." Rick Margolis, whose company owns three Main Street buildings, said other stores benefit when a national brand arrives.

But Jane Schaffner, the owner of the Main Street store La Niche, worried the street is losing its uniqueness. She said Main Street "is our livelihood," but chain stores want a presence on Main Street regardless of the impact on the bottom line. Angela Moschetta, an activist with the issues group Future Park City, said the economic viability of Park City as well as Main Street itself need to be protected.

The elected officials touched on issues like the increasing threat of chain stores to Main Street as compared to 10 or 15 years ago and the rights of a property owner as the restriction is enacted. Andy Beerman, a City Councilor with business interests on Main Street, said the community would be "risking our distinctiveness" if the restriction was not passed.